Sunday, May 31, 2020

Writing Versus Blogging Versus Tweeting

The medium does strongly influence the message. There has been recent chatter about the superiority of blogging to tweeting - mostly from bloggers, of course - and a push to revive this already-outmoded form.  There is a discipline to limiting the number of characters that can be used, yet I find this does not affect people on twitter as much as it might.  They simply reduce to repetition of a bumper-sticker points until they reach the maximum.

I will say it does seem to work for humor.  It is also good for a one-sentence summary while linking to a longer piece, which some researchers are making use of. Yet it is not long enough for developing an idea.  There is a tweet form of putting out ten related ones in a row to make a point in staccato style.  I usually dislike these, but i have seen it done well.

Blogging is an imitation of the formal essay, op-ed piece, or news story. The earlier forms often had strict constraints, stretching to fill a page or condensing to prevent spilling over.  I remember the highschool newspaper and needing someone to produce 50 words or 500 on command as the pages were being assembled.  It's a good exercise.  I had forgotten it in all my discussions of education these last fifty years, but it was one of the more valuable experiences of 9th-10th grade for me.  I was rewarded with a monthly humor column in 11th-12th, with a fairly narrow range of words each time.

The formal essays of Twain, Mencken, and E.B.White do not appear to have set lengths.  However, all of them wrote for fitting to the page for years, and they likely developed an intuition for what the market would bear. Now that I think of it, collections of essays by any of them often contain notes in the early pages crediting the publication where they originally appeared.  They may or may not have been given an estimated length to write toward, but they likely hewed to what was usual for the periodical in question. They were also under constraints.

But blogging, now, that's a form where one can go on at any length, and many do.  Increased freedom often means decreased discipline. I have no idea how many words are in each post. Many short posts grow'd like Topsy, under little control. Some, perhaps most, are too long.  It is usually more important to get them out promptly rather than polish them by cutting them 50 or 70%.  I fancied at first I was writing for posterity.  That was the original draw of being online, remember.  "The internet is forever," we used to say.  We now know that's not true, and the maligned dead-tree publishing remains more permanent. (But no search engine.) Yet even when I pull back my own older posts and bring them forward there is a forced nature to it. Like newspapers that quickly become fishwrap, blog posts do work mostly in the atmosphere of immediacy.  Hmm.  "immediacy" is too strong.  That would be more like Twitter.  But the shelf life is not long.  It may not be as short as the coffee and donuts, but it ain't canned goods in the blogosphere either.

Yet there does remain an advantage of being able to develop an idea somewhat and push it out into the marketplace to interact with the other citizens for a bit.  It may be that it is favored by older writers because we were raised on essays in school, both the reading and the writing, and blogging is a derivative of that form. Newspapers, magazines, and television did not have a tweet equivalent, except perhaps the headlines themselves, or the late-night comics.  Radio is a better candidate as the precursor to tweeting.

Lost Dog

The "lost dog" signs stay up forever, because what would be the motivation to take them down?  They fade and I cease noticing them.  This week new signs went up with a different dog.  Always sad.

Competing In This Economy

Update: Seth Barron from City Journal makes an interesting observation on the reversal of roles here.
Civil disobedience is supposed to mean that, in the face of the state’s overwhelming monopoly on force, the protester responds with passive, nonviolent resistance. But today’s radical Left leaders, like AOC, have inverted that logic: in the face of mob violence, police should go limp, de-escalate the conflict, and hope that they don’t get burned to death.

I don't know who Antifa are, entirely, but I know who the violent left has been over the decades, and the few interview statements of the last few years fit with that.  These are people who cannot compete in the current economy, neither social nor monetary, to the level of success they believe they deserve, and so conclude that the system is unfair.  Focusing on it being unfair to African-Americans is merely a pose. It is their own prospects that they are concerned with. Sometimes this is because their abilities are somewhat lacking, but is more often a personality difficulty.  Their abilities are sufficient to make a life, but they are narcissists who believe they deserve more.  After the nonsense of the 70's and 80's that bullies were people who had low self-esteem (which we must therefore artificially inflate to get them to like themselves and stop bullying), we learned they are actually people with too much self-esteem.  They believe themselves to be in the top 10% of the class when they are about in the middle.  They believe they are among the most popular children when they are actually below average in that.  Reality does not support their estimation of where they should be, and so they become enraged.

Update II:  This is older, from Germany, about who the activists are.  It may apply.

I suppose some of those are black, but I am not seeing them in especial prominence in that side of the protests.  The white leftists are clever enough to recognise that they have to have some people of color, but those have historically been put out in front for show but ignored in the leadership. Democratic strategy groups are all-white affairs.) The New Neo has an interesting piece on how the hard left is increasingly well trained in tactics, which is worth noting.  But mostly, it's not that hard.  You just have to be a committed activist with a few stock responses, waiting for the next excuse.  We saw some things on the internet that said white supremacists were going to be there, so we had to go and be ready to fight. Hehehe. You don't have to have any evidence for that.  You can manufacture it easily.  Enough people are so reflexive about the phrase "white supremacist" that they'll overlook just about anything you do or say in response, whether there is anything to it or not.  Examination is unnecessary, and in fact, suggests you might not be entirely reliable that you would question such a thing. This time around, some of the "white supremacists" have turned out to be people who showed up to protect the right to protest. Yeah, gee.  Can't have any of that.

Next, just refuse to let any discussion take place. Always change the subject to vague, emotional things (400 years of oppression!) from concrete current issues.  When you get a chance to speak to those in power, make demands that result in a small group of people getting paid in money or positions with prestige. Secondly, demand punishment for people who are your political opponents, or for people you can paint as being from "the other side." It intimidates the opposition into silence, no reasoning required. It's first-chapter Alinsky stuff.  It works because the media manipulation is performed on people who want to be manipulated in exactly this way, and will even give you hints if you aren't getting it right.

No one protested, let alone set buildings on fire, when Justine Diamond was killed by the Minneapolis PD.  Memory hole. People always have mixed motives, and I am sure there are folks who do care about police training in general , or who believe that if somehow the black point-of-view could only be heard this would all improve, but that is not what drives people into the streets. The sermon this morning included a fair bit at the end about listening in humility to the stories of people of color.  I like our pastor very much, but this is just wrong.  Insofar as this is about racism at all, it is not about listening, but taking actions against people who do things wrong (as the officer apparently had done in the past), so that accountability becomes the norm.  My entire congregation, down to the highschoolers, could describe with good accuracy what the black people who are upset are upset about. I'll bet our highschoolers could describe the opinions of black highschoolers from Minneapolis far better than Antifa could articulate the opinions of white church people in New Hampshire, frankly.

The hand-wringing message is "with all our efforts over the last century, there are still horrible individual incidents which somehow (wave hands vaguely here) proves that there is a lot of general racism." So, what we have done hasn't worked, so let's do even more of what hasn't worked, this time with a serious expression on our faces. Sure.  Knock yourself out.

The political solution is mostly different.  The spiritual solutions are very different. Different enough that the former may preclude you hearing the latter. I have commented more on the cultural/personality/political, because frankly, it's a lot easier - I get both intellectually and spiritually lazy.  It's pretty easy for me to keep saying "No, 1960's liberalism was very effective in gathering in the low-hanging fruit of racism/sexism/poverty awareness, but it has done almost nothing since then." I could train all of you do do that in 30 minutes and send you out with your own blogs, just checking in on you once a week to notice how often you are doing that.

I have touched on spiritual topics about 10% of the posts over the years on this blog, especially in three focused times over a period of 1-2 months each. I have more expertise in the realm of cultural observation and noticing bad reasoning in political and social affairs.  I can be entertaining there as well.  But maybe I need to focus on spiritual insights more, not because I'm especially good at it, but because the times require it. We'll see.  It's much more fun to post ABBA videos and point out overlooked but important aspects of current events.

My eyes glaze over when other blogs go into spiritual topics, though I often force myself through it because these are people I respect and I know the topics are important.  They just aren't fun, and I'm big into entertainment. There may be a way.  I'm going to clear out some of my usual stuff that I have in my notes first.  Post 7000 is coming up soon.  Maybe it's a break point.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

One Toke Over The Line

There must have been someone in the studio who got this, but shut his mouth and let it go through.  There must have been a few homes across America where someone came running in from the other room to watch this in amazement.


I tuned in to a podcast on Papuan genetics just because it was the next one in the series, but I didn't expect to be on there long.  Not my topic.  But the person being interviewed was a Swede who kept talking about "the yenome," and "yenetics," and I was so charmed that I kept listening.  It worked out well, because he spoke a great deal about the languages of New Guinea, which was unexpected but much to my liking. The island fascinates linguists because the population arrived roughly 50,000 years ago and due to the primitive technology and difficult terrain, they diversified enormously.  After the severe reduction in population and bottleneck of the last glacial maximum (LGM) they spread out over the island again, but still with no metals, no agriculture, nothing to trade, and became diverse again, with one valley becoming unable to understand the language of the next.  Without anything to trade, there is no reason to know your neighbors, and the only contact was war over some piece of land or fishing/hunting rights.  A generation ago, the estimate was a thousand languages spread over two million people, unlike anything else in the world. Because it is an island, and its seemed that there were no outside influences until the Austranesians arrived a few thousand years ago, the languages simply have to be related to each other, yet this was often hard to demonstrate. 

It screws up the theory that it is impossible to demonstrate relatedness of languages beyond about 10,000 years, because whether we can see it or not, those languages are clearly related.  The escape hatch that there may be some other unknown events that somehow introduced new languages have been hit pretty hard, because there is no evidence of this in the DNA.

Genetics has mostly confirmed one set of theories, that the people of the highlands are related to each other, but entirely distinct from the people of the lowlands.  The people of the coasts have some highland blood in them, but the people of the hills have 0% of the lowlanders in them.  Zero is a very small number.  A tribe looking down from the mountains on a coastal people they can see on a clear day is more closely related to every other highland tribe, most of which they have little awareness of, than the people only a few miles away.  This is unusual.  Tribes near each other usually reveal some similar genetics to those nearby, even if neither tribe has any memory of contact, even in legend.

So I got some educational update by following what was charming in front of me.  Much of education is serendipity.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Secondary Gain

As you may imagine, we have difficulty with some patients wearing masks, because well, they are not in their best mind at the moment and don’t always think well even when they mean well.  Unsurprisingly, those are also the patients we have the hardest time getting to remember handwashing and hand sanitizer.  I wondered if that is true of the population in general, just more visible in a psychiatric population.  Are the people who don’t wear masks also the people who wash their hands less?  The latter is much more important.  Some say that mask-wearing was never that important, but I think even the most skeptical are still pro-handwashing. On an individual basis, that would make intuitive sense.  The people who are really cautious by nature were likely already more germ-conscious, but even if this is a temporary phenomenon for others, the ones who mask are likely to be more careful about washing and distancing.  The people who think it’s all a crock and there isn’t much danger and don’t mask would be less likely to have increased their hand-washing and hand-sanitiser above previous levels. Whether they were careful or not careful before is unknown and I wouldn’t jump to conclusions about it. I do have to suspect that on average this would be a group that already washed its hands less, but whether that was generally true or mostly the result of a terrible subgroup that brought the average down I wouldn’t guess. 
This would be an unsurprising result, but look what it immediately leads to.  If the mask-avoiders are also avoiding enhanced washing, then the cautious will stay away from them.  They have provided an unintentional signal to the rest of us. I don't pay much attention to this stuff. Or, I'm pretty sure I'm not in much danger and don't have it, so you probably aren't in any danger from me. Or, I wasn't really thinking about safety and illness and social norms when I left the house this morning, or I want others to know I am a brave person, not a timid one who can be told what to do by the government. I'm essentially a teenager masquerading as a libertarian. Or worst of all, I want to announce how ridiculous the rest of you are, and shove it in your faces. I have seen such comments at sites I know many of you go to, and I have talked to such people at work and on my walks.  If that seems harsh, at least know that I am not making this up.  Real people.

Next, does mask-wearing provide any reminder to wash more often or be cautious not to crowd others?  Does it cue us overall to take things more seriously?  I don’t know this to be true, but I have an interesting parallel.  When I fast and pray, I don’t pray more often because of good intentions.  I pray more often because I feel a pang of hunger and go “Oh, right.  I’m fasting in order to pray more.  Guess I’ll pray now.”  It would be an interesting set of experiments to see whether wearing a mask ourselves or seeing other people wearing masks, or both, or neither, caused us to wash our hands more often, or remember to stand back a little farther.  Masks have limited primary value, though it can be cumulative if everyone in an environment is wearing good ones properly.  Whether they have secondary value is an interesting question.  That might provide some explanation why some countries that have lots of masking have low infection rates, even though each individual mask isn’t much help.  It reminds everyone to wash and distance, which are more important.  If this is true, I’d like to find a reminder that is less uncomfortable, thanks. I do about 5 out of about 7.5 hours with a mask when I’m at work, and it sucks.

I want to stress this is a maybe.  It’s plausible, but I don’t have anything to back it up.

Pre-Existing Immunity

If Americans had previously high immunity against coronaviruses that only gets overwhelmed under extreme conditions, like intense contact (long indoor exposure) or extreme age-related or medical problems, that would both advance and set back the high-volume arguments around the league.  OTOH, if other countries aredemonstrating higher immunity, that would show the opposite, that the deeply desired “herd immunity” might elude us and make us more vulnerable for reinfection.  There would not have been any good way to know that we were more, or less susceptible than other countries when the virus was beginning to threaten us in February, so the high estimates of infection would have been justifiable.  I did see a few predictions that Americans were in a better position for behavioral and cultural reasons – less multigenerational housing, better handwashing and distancing to begin with, better care for the elderly, things like that – but nothing I recall that said “We are at more/ less risk because we have better overall immunity or better coronavirus immunity than other places – including the immigrant populations of Europe.” 

Yet even had we known such a thing was true I don’t know if the recommendations would have been hugely different.  It would still have meant shutting borders and reducing indoor exposure pretty drastically – restaurants, hotels, schools, grocery, retail, offices. Though maybe there wouldn’t have been so much energy and fewer places would have done it.  Great for low-risk places, sucks for high-risk places, if only we knew which was which.

It might provide some explanation for the odd testing results that pop up , suggesting that many more people have been exposed than we think.  Could those be false positives of related diseases (so I guess “partly false” positives), but not a bad thing, because those also provided some immunity? It would also throw off any current estimates what would constitute immunity for an individual, and thus, what would constitute herd immunity. If this is going to turn on widely varying immunities, it’s going to be tough to sort out. I have been thinking of the widely varied questions they ask us when we give blood, highlighting that risk is not just one thing.

It might give all of us increased confidence in terms of reopening, or how we might respond to a reemergence. Or less confidence, but resignation that we will simply be repeatedly hit while other nations get off easier.

Here is a difficulty:  If the natural immune systems of some people knocked C19 or some version of it back without even having to develop antibodies, are they immune from reinfection with higher viral load – or not?  Start watching for the term “Cross-immunity.”  It may turn out to be key.  Or it may just be one of those quaint ideas we floated in late May of 2020.

Competing narratives.  If you are looking for a reason why North Americans might have better immune systems overall than other countries, there is 1) general health, 2) a more diverse population than just about anyone else in the world, 3) travel to more places.  How much do Europeans visit South America? Do Asians visit the Caribbean all that much? African tourism is dependent on…go, on, tell me.  On the other hand, Vietnam and Singapore might have enhanced immune systems against lots of things because, well, they all seem to start in or near China, with its huge population, and they are right next door.  Plus they are in contact with each other a fair bit.  Choose your narrative.  At present we don’t know.

I will note in passing the number of times I silently curse people on threads who leap in to say “This obviously shows how we destroyed entire economies for nothing…,” not noticing the number of times they have already moved the goalposts and likely will continue to do so. Train yourself to keep noticing the extreme words obviously, always, never, destroyed, etc.  These are seldom justified. They are words people use to cut off argument, not encourage it. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020


I started work at the hospital 42 years ago today.  Not many people stay at one place 42 years. Just a boring guy, I guess. Just about 5/8th of my life. I still just do that, calculating percentages and converting to nearby fractions for lots of things.

The Brontosaurus Is Back

My generation is going to feel vindicated over this.

It means that Anne Elk is back in business, too.

Homo Naledi

Paleoanthropology was a field in which the number of professional researchers was greater than the number of fossils to study until the late 1990’s. To find a single finger-bone could make your career. Lee Berger had found two teeth years earlier and was still dining out on them, by his own account. We are now awash in new, largely unexplained hominids, and a good deal of that comes from a “wasted” three years of Berger’s career trying to find new sites using Google Earth, then suddenly finding the obstruction and patiently removing it. A great podcast from The Insight.    It’s long, so I recommend it for a walk or drive.

We have long envisioned human descent as a tree, with some branches dead-ending in no descendants and only the line to homo sapiens sapiens somehow weathering the storm. It is certainly what I was taught in Physical Anthropology 101 in the 1970’s. That was undermined when it became clear that we had interbred with Neandertals, and further so with the discovery of the Denisovans, who turn out to be many and widespread.  Now even Africa is being reexamined because of the new sites, including new species.  The metaphor now is of a braided stream of genetic descent, more like a river delta.

It is changing so fast that I fear this interview with Berger from 2018 may already be out-of-date. It’s fascinating for what the story tells us about scientific research in general, including how to relook at something that others have been looking at for a century, how failure might not be wasted, and how to question your own assumptions.  The adventurous parts are great as well, including sending very thin people along sheer underground cliffs and down impossibly thin shafts in the dark, 40 feet into the earth to study the bones at least fifteen hominids who are like us yet unlike us: infants, children, mature adults, and elderly creatures who had very small bodies and smaller brains. Yet they buried their dead, previously thought inconsistent with that cranial capacity. (Or maybe they didn’t and it was accidental.) A new species, Homo naledi.   Way more than a finger bone or a couple of teeth.

Because the site research team needed half-a-dozen very thin people with graduate degrees in paleoanthropology, that group was all women, apparently with considerable esprit de corps. Great story.

Because fossils were so scarce, professionals developed considerable skill in gradually extrapolating the rest of a skeleton from very few bones.  That they would overreach is hardly surprising.  Lee Berger’s comment on the abundance of material now is therefore fascinating.  He and other researchers no longer have to speculate.  They don’t have to come up with theories and try them out painstakingly one by one.  Answers pop up before theories can even be fully formed.